With Friends Like These by Anna Maltese
It started, as these things often do now, with a tweet:
Oh, sweet, summer child. No. No, they do not. Hear me out on this one.
Outcomes of fights depend on more than just simple strategy. They also depend on resource allocation. How you divide your forces. What support you give them.
The spark that lit the current fire was a quote from the Chairman of the DCCC, Representative Ben Ray Lujan, who stated that the Party would be open to running candidates opposed to abortion rights to pick up 24 seats in the House.
OK, so, first off, yes, the Democratic Party has always had pols who were “personally opposed” to abortion, but who swear to respect pro-choice policy.
But if the Democratic Party makes a push to run candidates on a platform of opposing reproductive rights instead of supporting them or merely being “personally opposed” to them but still drawing the line at policy, neither they nor women will net any gains.
Because if that happens, women will be forced to fight a two-front war just to slow the erosion of what dwindling rights and liberties we do have. Forced to defend our left flank as well as our right, the battle to keep what we have now will become impossible. The center cannot hold.
If you weren’t in a coma during the 2016 election, you might remember how the first female candidate of a major party had to fight just such a two-front war. You might remember how that weakened the party. And you might have second thoughts about weakening it further.
To that point, the recent announcement of the policy initiatives meant to cohere the Democratic Party for the 2018 and 2020 elections had exactly zero mention of reproductive rights. And given the recent support of openly anti-abortion candidate Heath Mello last April, women and our allies are understandably concerned (read: infuriated) about what looks very much to be an effort to undermine our control over our lives by the Party we’re in to score political points.
Those who are willing to use our lives as a bargaining chip for some mythical Real Issue discussed by Very Serious People often cast the choice as one of pragmatism vs morality.
They’re wrong. And it’s both.
Democrats won the popular vote - by the second-largest margin in history, let’s not forget - on the most pro-woman, pro-PoC, pro-LGBTQ+, pro-immigration, progressive platform in this country’s history. That matters. Because these issues matter.
For all the progress that has been won over the centuries, women still aren’t full citizens under the law. We don’t have equal pay. We’re still denied equal rights. Our personal liberties are under attack every day, as is the very acknowledgment of that attack in circles on both the right and, increasingly, the left.
Hard-won victories - Title IX, Roe v Wade, contraception - are fights we are still fighting in 2017 and incredibly, we are losing ground. And now, self-professed allies in this battle are forcing us to defend our left flank.
This isn’t just an academic exercise or some hypothetical situation. This has already happened in states with Democratic majorities. Elizabeth Miller, who ran for the 32nd District in the Virginia House of Delegates, directed my attention to what happened in Virginia in 2012, where Governor Bob McDonnell signed SB 484 into law, mandating ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. (The original version mandated it as a transvaginal ultrasound, but subsequent debate watered it down to a jelly-belly procedure.)
The bill was allowed to be brought to the floor by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw and was passed on a tie-breaking vote thanks to two anti-choice Democratic Senators: Charles Colgan (D-Prince William) and Phillip Puckett (D-Russell).
And in case you thought that was a one-off, these two gents also helped pass SB 924, Virginia’s TRAP law, on another tie-breaking vote, which mandates that the state’s abortion clinics must be regulated just like hospitals.
But hey, what could possibly go wrong nationally, amirite?
Turning back to the present situation now to address our national discussion, I’d like to explain in more comprehensive detail why this is a bad idea. For the record:
Reproductive rights are economic rights are human rights. Period.
Women - and specifically women of color - are the backbone of the Democratic Party. Women comprise 51% of the total US population and 54% of the total electorate. And for the majority of us who are registered Democrats, we don’t suddenly wink out of existence just because our rights are suddenly deemed inconvenient or expendable by the minority of white men in our Party.
The sweeping majority of work put into #Resisting the Trump administration has been done by women. The largest march in this country’s history? The Women’s March. 85% of those calls and emails made to Congress - as well as the protests/sit-ins/subsequent arrests - to stop atrocities like Trumpcare? Women. The candidate who battled and beat Trump in all three debates as well as the popular vote? A beautiful, brilliant, badass woman.
That effort comes at a cost. Often, the women least able to afford the time and money required to support this are the ones deepest in the trenches. Often, those women are the breadwinners of their families.
To put it in terms that Party officials considering this move should understand:
The more our control over our own destinies is taken from us, the less time and money we will have to support and fight for the Party we choose to represent our interests.
And fair warning: much like reproduction, we are determined that that is a choice we will continue to have.
Some folks are already trying to explain it away as essentially window dressing. That the Party will wink and nod to candidates who just happen to be personally anti-choice in order to win red states, but that they’d never let policy be dictated by that.
The problem there is threefold. First, the Republican voters they imagine they can peel off with this new push are seldom voting on a strictly anti-abortion issue. Those voters will never vote for a Democrat for a whole slew of other reasons. You’re not going to distract them from those reasons now by jangling some shiny keys in front of their faces.
Second, they can read, and they know what you’re trying to do.
Third, it’s playing chicken yet again with the potential real-life consequences of our elections and we really, really, reeaalllllyyy need to stop doing that. (cough*Virginia*cough)
But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that you do make a push for this. In that event, you’ve doomed the Democratic Party both ideologically and pragmatically anyway. If a local election offers up abortion as a deal-sweetener, it might not motivate rank-and-file Republican voters enough to change their Party affiliation, but it will surely motivate Republican politicians beholden to the evangelical lobby in their Party to move on that “like a bitch.” And to suddenly find it in themselves to reach across the aisle on this particular issue with the Party they currently view as the right hand of Satan.
They’ll move like a bitch not only on the right to a safe and legal abortion but, as we’ve already seen, on contraception. On routine checkups with an OB-GYN. On prenatal care and family planning. This doesn’t end with abortion; it begins with it.
And when that happens, that 85% of the effort toward supporting the Democratic Party will crumble. What victories this Party has recently enjoyed will vaporize. All our work, all our valiant efforts, will be broken upon women’s backs. Women. Specifically women of color, who’ve had the Democratic Party’s back for YEARS and who did their damndest to save America this past election with no thanks and almost no think pieces written about their valiant efforts afterward.
The evaporation of an issue which directly affects the most reliable demographic of this Party’s base will cripple that base under this administration. And real talk for a second here - you’re coming for women’s rights now? After this election? Under this administration? For serious??
This may seem like a purely academic issue to some people. It may seem abstract to those who think their lives aren’t going to be directly affected by this decision. But this directly affects OUR paychecks. OUR personal liberties. OUR dreams and hopes. OUR AMBITIONS.
This would be a horrid idea in the BEST of political climates. Now? Holy shit, we would be DONE.
Fighting this fight on one front is hard enough. We’ve already given pounds of flesh and miles of ground in both red states and in blue ones. We cannot fight this on two fronts.
We cannot fight this on two fronts.
For those women who might not see this as a serious threat, I want to remind you of what happened in Democratic-majority Virginia.
For those men who might not see this as serious, I know you’ve been asked to put yourselves in women’s positions on this. Based on where we are now, that might not have worked. So I’ll ask you this instead: imagine the roles were reversed. Imagine you had personal skin in this game. Imagine that men were the ones who had to bear and raise children, putting off their dreams, stifling their ambitions, watching their paychecks come back with only .63 to .77 on the dollar compared to women’s.
Imagine being asked to give up even more now.
Which rights - which personal liberties - of yours would you be willing to have someone else put on the chopping block in this situation? Any? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Are we burning the village in order to save it now? Or are we so far removed from the success of past battles that we can’t see the blood on the tracks anymore and so take the successes for granted?
I suspect the latter. Americans’ long-term memories...well, they aren’t all they could be. Our talent for adaptability comes with the price of rather quickly forgetting how things used to be. And it’s worse if we’ve grown up in an era where those fights have already been won. My mom, a Republican, shrugs off the dangers of Roe being overturned with an airy, “Oh, it’s not going anywhere.”
I love her, but a quick glance through the 90s, 00s, and 10s shows otherwise. We’re backsliding. Fast.
She didn’t have to face the same environment women before her had to. Like the success of vaccines, we take certain things for granted. Much like certain segments of the left take us - our votes, our rights, our hard work - for granted.
You can talk all you like, engage in all the wishful thinking you like, about peeling off votes in red states using my body as a bargaining chip. But if you do this to women, you alienate and erode the very base of support you enjoy. I will support whichever individual candidate has my back and the backs of my sisters. I and many others - including former Governor Howard Dean, apparently - will not give one red cent to an organization that does not.
I will not make common cause with people who are willing to trade away my eroding human rights, much less to chase after voters we lost back in the 60s. This past election revealed clearly how misogyny is alive and well in my own Party, and I will not allow those forces to determine my destiny.
And to those of you who still view my life as a potential bargaining chip, let me leave you with the ending of ‘Animal Farm:’
“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
Do this, and to the base of the Democratic Party, like it or not, whatever your stated intent may be, you will become indistinguishable from Republicans. And other marginalized groups in the Democratic Party will notice.
Because if you're willing to bargain my life away without even asking my CONSENT to do so, you're willing to bargain anything away.
I see you.
I SEE YOU.
P.s. Huge H/T to Elizabeth Miller. She is a font of experience and knowledge, and both her Twitter feed and her website are definitely worth checking out and supporting:
Anna Maltese is a cartoonist, archer, and the greatest sword fighter in the North Valley Homeowner's Association.